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Transformative Center opens in Wilkes-Barre

Officials behind a new state-of-the-art facility in Wilkes-Barre hope to help homeless men transform their lives.

"I've been in the social service field for about 20 years now. I've ran other programs, and the system is broken in our state and in our country," said Justin Behrens, executive director. "So we decided here at Keystone Mission, we're gonna find out well, how do we fix that brokenness... how do we make it work in a more effective manner?"

Keystone Mission’s Transformation Center opened its doors Wednesday. The nonprofit partnered with more than a dozen community agencies and businesses to create the 15-bed center, which will begin with 10 residents. Those welcomed into the transformative program will go through the faith-based non-profit’s five-pillar program to learn the importance of self-care, life skills, job-readiness and spiritual training.

WVIA News toured the new facility Tuesday at 290 Parkview Circle, Wilkes-Barre, ahead of the grand opening.

The two-floor center was previously a Knights of Columbus location and was purchased by a private donor and given to the faith-based nonprofit. The first floor features a living area with cozy couches and a TV, bathrooms and a laundry room and bedrooms. There's a meeting room and eating area on the bottom floor as well as a kitchen, where residents will receive cooking lessons. Construction on certain areas was still underway Tuesday.

Future residents will be referred to the center in a variety of ways, said Behrens.

Keystone Mission will first assess the referrals and find out their needs basis to determine if they are a good fit for the program. The center will not take aggressive criminal backgrounds or sex offenders, he said.

"We have to have the safety of everyone around us also," said Behrens.

The center aims to serve as a broker between the homeless men and area organizations.

"We don't do mental health care, we don't do drug and alcohol, we don't do job training here. We don't do housing for funding here, we don't do medical here," he said. "Because we already have great agencies that already do it… so our life coaches are brokers, you come here, we're going to broker you out to all these different agencies to get them to work together.”

Keystone Mission will help provide structure.

“We follow them in their path, we make sure they make their appointments, we work with them, we motivate them, we're their cheerleaders," he said.

A pastor from California began offering ministry to the homeless population in Scranton from a box truck in 1995 in the early days of Keystone Mission, said Ryan Buchanan, development director. In 2005, the organization received its nonprofit status. Behren began at the mission in 2019.

"I traveled all across this country to different rescue missions in different shelters and different transformation centers," he said. "So this is actually developed bits and pieces from all different places."

The program does not have a designation length of time for residents.

"As long as you're moving in the right direction, why am I going to penalize you for kicking you out?" said Behrens.

Those who are accepted into the center must be willing to make a change, Behrens said.

"People are going to refer this place as a shelter. It's not a shelter, it's a transformation center… we're here to get them off the streets and keep them off the streets. And so they need to be motivated and ready to move on to that next level," he said.

For more details, visit keystonemission.org.

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.